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"Wagner would very pleased with this production were he alive to see it. This is a true gesamtkunstwerk -- The singers can really act, or should it be the actors can really sing -- and they all look their parts. The spare staging, which is always appropriate and evocative also allows one to concentrate on the thrilling music. The whole directorial concept hangs together right from the opening with an alone Elsa on the stage to the very end with Elsa dead and all in apparent chaos. This is not a fairy tale -- this is a dark interpersonal psychological drama, and kudos should go out to the editor who has put in many appropriate reaction shots to highlight the action. Even the chorus is deeply into this production.
Solveig Kringelborn IS Elsa and I cannot praise her performance highly enough. In this production she is the pivot around whom all revolves and she is rarely offstage. Her angelic beauty radiates her innocence and purity. The range of emotions she projects vocally and through her body language is quite remarkable. Her sweet clear voice, so unlike, for example that of Eva Marton's Elsa, projects well and runs the gamut from almost otherworldly to deep despair. Not to take anything away from the rest of her performance, what she does in the final act is a tour de force as she moves from hesitancy to increasing insistance and perhaps strength to demanding an answer to the forbidden question. Watching this is to be carried away with the horror because we know where it will all end and we want to cry out, "Don't do it, Elsa!". Her bereavement in the final scene must bring a tear or three to the eye.
Waltraud Meier -- what can one say about her that has not already been said so often? Her dark beauty and rich mezzo voice are a splendid contrast to those of Ms. Kringelborn; and her acting is as excellent as her Kundry was in the previous year's Parsifal, also by Lehnhoff/Nagano. She is evil personified here and radiates it with great power. She is quite frightening in her intensity, control and manipulativeness.
Klaus Florian Vogt makes a wonderful other-worldly Lohengrin with his pure voice, his stiff demeanor, (and his shimmering suit). As well as his beautiful renditions of the "Mein Lieber Swan(s)" and "In Fernen Land"; in the first scene of Act III his love music and vain attempts to fend off Elsa's need for his identity are particularly striking.
Tom Fox as Frederich von Telramund is very good as a bombastic weakling under the control and stiffening of his evil wife; and Hans-Peter Konig is in fine voice as a powerful, but decent, regal King Heinrich.
Kent Nagano leads his excellent orchestra in a dramatic emotionally gripping rendition of the music (as he did in the Parsifal of the previous year). He has even managed to make that hoary old chestnut (the vorspeil of Act III) fresh and exciting.
Nikolaus Lehnhoff has again come up with a dramatically tight production filled with little touches that seem so minor but add so much to the characterisation. The drama of the contrasts between good and evil in the protagonists is intense and he has brought out the best in everyone. The setting and costumes highlight Wagner's German nationalism and revolutionary associations in the libretto, which in turn emphasises the collapse at the end with the withdrawal of the looked-for protector and the arrival of a very young bewildered Gottfried. There are some bits that sound better in theory (from interviews in the documentary) than work in practice, but I am not about to complain.
I should also add that it is a pleasure not to have the drama interrupted by applause. Whereas it seems to have been performed in front of a live audience, there was no applause until the curtain call at the end.
In my opinion, this is a Lohengrin for the ages, and should be a touchstone for all other productions.
Finally, I would like to express my admiration for this production of Opus Arte. The quality of the sound and picture is unequalled; and the extensive clear documentary, "Never Shalt Thou Ask Of Me", and the accompanying booklet are fascinating bonuses. Opus Arte always makes a great contrast to the usual shoddy productions from Kultur.
I wish I could give this DVD set more than 5 stars. It is a must have and will thrill even those who profess not to like Wagner operas. It is highly dramatic, but also musically very romantic and lyrical. Much as I admire Wagner's later operas, I do wish he had done at least one more in the style of Lohengrin."
Far From Tops But Lohengrin Is (nearly) Always Beautiful
I. Martinez-Ybor | Miami, FL USA | 07/15/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Just as I am ready to dismiss and turn off this Lohengrin, I find something to like in it, so I keep watching (and hearing) and remain attentive to the performance. So, I guess at some level, it is effective.
I like the sets, massive but simple(Act II is quite striking). Costumes are dreadful (Lohengrin's are particularly ghastly, and the silver paint evidently rubs off, as one can see on DVD; Ortrud's however are glorious in a kitschy witch-madam sort of way, reminiscent of the Powell-Pressburger Tales of Hoffman). Texts for the many choruses do not lend themselves to the rather pedestrian contemporary clothes the poor choristers are called upon to wear; they look straight out of a Sear's catalogue. If not "period" or "timeless", a less literal "contemporary" look would have seemed preferable. The production's conceit centering the opera in Elsa's mind is no more than that, and is neither original nor offensive.
But ultimately, the important stuff is the musical realization of Lohengrin, arguably Wagner's most melodious score and, direct descendant of Weber's Freischutz, the zenith of German romantic opera. Here is where this performance really wants but, again, does not offend. I've never found Nagano an eloquent conductor (he has other virtues), and, with Wagner, he does not use the story-telling, dramatic devices built into the orchestral score. The great Wagner conductors I can immediately think of, say Furtwangler, Knappertsbusch, Karajan, Kempe, currently Levine, all realize and convey drama in and from the pit. Lohengrin lacks the contrapuntal glories of Meistersinger, the chromaticism of Tristan, the leit-motifs and rhythmic variety of the Ring, the unique musical language and sound-world of Parsifal. But in Lohengrin musical phrases from the pit not only support but comment and at times carry the action, and indeed reach apex of rare melodic beauty, e.g., the violins, supported by arching phrases in the cellos, repeating Elsa's reconciliation music at the end of her great scene with Ortrud in Act II . Nagano goes nowhere in this scene (I don't think the word "rubato" exists in his vocabulary), and as elsewhere, sounds as if his job were to keep things tidy and mark time.
I like lyrical voices in Lohengrin. Sandor Konya defined the role for me and so far remains unmatched, but I also saw good performances from Siegfried Jerusalem and (early)Rene Kollo (Domingo, to my taste, sounds too bright and Latin for this music, fine artist though he is). All of these tenors were lyrics (though both Jerusalem and Kollo went on to sing heavier parts) and approached Lohengrin lyrically, that is, with the line and phrasing they would have given, say, Nemorino's music. Though lyrics, they had vocal heft, restrained but selectively projected in Lohengrin, and which also enabled all of them to sing Walther von Stolzing as well as Parsifal (I also heard Konya once sing a beautiful Edgardo in Lucia, as well as much Verdi and Puccini). The problem with Mr. Vogt is that there is minuscule body to his sound, notwithstanding his fine musicianship and tasteful portrayal. The same has to be said of Miss Kringelborn, though she is not as interesting a singer. It's not that the voice is lyric (I always found Birgit Nilsson's Elsa an aberration) but that it is light. The greatest Elsa I ever saw was Elizabeth Grummer, also a great Eva and a Donna Anna (alas, I never saw Gundula Janowitz in the part though she's fabulous in the otherwise mixed-bag Kubelik recording, and the great Maria Muller was much before my time, though I've heard her complete Elsa as well as various excerpts). All of these ladies were lyrics but could project and muster heft. In short, what we have in this performance are a Don Ottavio and Zerlina who somehow walked into the wrong opera. Nagano allows them to be heard, but this may contribute to the overall paleness of his performance. Everybody else is probably as good as it gets today. It is always a pleasure to watch Waltraud Meier though the voice does not seem as rich here as I've heard it in the past. Who are the great Ortruds in my book? First and foremost Margarete Klose in that embarrassingly magnificent (given provenance)live performance from Berlin, 1942 (available on Preiser Records); it's a lesson in projecting text and drama by one of the great contralto instruments of the 20th century through voice color and musicianship. The voice leaps at you and you see the face. Not that far behind are Kirsten Thorborg and, closer to us, Christa Ludwig. Meier is a most effective singer, arguably the best today in this repertoire, if not in the same vocal league as the aforementioned ladies.
So, where do I come out? There's no violence done to Lohengrin here, but by no stretch of the imagination is this performance a must, unless you really like Lohengrin (like I do) and find something to like in nearly any performance of it. By the way, the chorus is great.
A technical observation: I find that the dts sound is not well mixed, with the voices fading in and out a bit depending where they stand on stage; the orchestra prevails always. I recommend using the stereo option."
Majestic and ponderous Lohengrin
Alfonso G. Uribe | Gaithersburg, MD USA | 04/17/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"After owing the set for a while, I finally sat down to watch it, and it did not disappoint me. I was not very much attracted to it since I am not fond of Lehnhoff's productions: his Ring Cycle from Munich was largely idiotic, and his Parsifal of Baden-Baden (and also Chicago and Barcelona)where, by trying to remove any traces of religious myths, he ended up removing any purpose of action in the entire opera. This Lehengrin, however, was an altogether enjoying experience. Lehnhoff tried to concentrate on the essential elements of the opera like patriotism, trust, honor, loyalty, revenge, and removed the non-essential ones like religion, pageantry, magic, and in this case he was successful ((I think that he also thought that love was a non-essential element, and tried to eliminate it altogether in the third act). The simplicity of the staging is marvelous, and it helped in making all the singers act believably. The singing is of high quality: In the title part Klaus Forian Vogt does not have the typical timbre that one expects from a Wagnerian tenor. His voice is the one that one would expect to find in Lucia di Lammermoor, or Traviata, but he uses it with so much intelligence, musicality, and care, and detail in his phrasing that one forgets the "wrong" sound (but whoever has listened to the live recording of this opera with Nicolai Gedda as Lohengrin, will have to accept that if the tenor has stamina and still has a good healthy voice at the end of the opera, then it is alright to be a lyric tenor and sing this part).
The consensus is that Solveig Kringelborn was not good as Elsa. I think I haven to disagree with that consensus: there may not be cream in her voice like with Grümmer, but the tone is pleasant and the intonation is accurate. She also acts convincingly the part (and in the third act bedroom scene she is superb). What have been said about Waltraud Meier is also my opinion. She is probably the best Ortrud of the last 50 years. She even manages to sound more menacing than Christa Ludwig and that is saying a lot. The bass and the two baritones complete a strong cast.
Kent Nagano selects slow and broad tempi creating a majestic reading that at times sounds ponderous, especially with the choral scenes. Could this be the reason why he makes that atrocious cut in the second act when he eliminates completely "In Früh'n versammelt uns der Ruf", and abbreviates other choral moments?. Presenting the opera on 3 dvd's (more than any other available version) and with more cuts than the other available versions does not make any sense.
In spite of all that, this is the Lohengrin that every one must have: The staging works very well, the acting is credible, the singing is first rate, and Nagano with his slow tempi maintains the tension of this amazingly beautiful score at the right level."
An Interesting Lohengrin
David D. Dollinger | Pasadena, CA | 03/30/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Because of the very favorable comment elicited by Vogt's appearance at the Met last season, and Nagano's fine conducting during his tenure at the Los Angeles Opera I had only one reservation initially in purchasing this performance: Solveig Kringelborn. Her broadcast as Rosalinde in Fledermaus was a complete disaster. Whether she was indisposed or not, it shamed the Met. The role is difficult and other diva's have also come to grief, e.g., Carol Vaness who was contemptuous of the role. I was also irritated that Opus Arte was taking three discs for this performance; two would have sufficed even with the lengthy documentary that accompanies the performance. I did want a Lohengrin in my collection of DVD's and I had ruled out the Met's because of casting in the roles of Ortrud and Elsa. The Viennese performance boasted a wonderful Elsa in Studer, a well-sung knight from Domingo, but a weak Ortrud. Additionally I think it takes a German or central European tenor to capture the spiritual qualities inherent in the role. To me, this aspect of the role completed eluded Domingo even though he sang beautifully.
The set under consideration met the requirements as far as the the Lohengrin is concerned. Vogt is an interesting artist,singing with great nuance and skill. There could be no doubt that he was a knight of the Grail. Kringelborn is an erratic artist, vocally. There were many times when she had the requisite shimmer and color for an ideal Elsa; however, whenever she pressed the instrument her voice could be come shrill and unattractive. Hence in any ensemble number she could not bring about qualities that the role demands. It must be said though that she sang her two arias beautifully and and since they are essentially reflective she never came to grief.
Meir's Ortrud is every bit as exciting as one would expect from this wonderful artist. She is incapable of being uninteresting or dull. Tom Fox, her Telramund was very good as was the King Henry.
The production is by Lehnhoff. I have no objection to the updating and stage concept. That there was no swan doesn't trouble me. What I did find strange was the first scene of the third act, the Bridal Chamber Scene. There is a piano and Lohengrin is seated at it appearing to be composing! Until I saw the documentary I wondered what was going on, but Lehnhoff in the documentary wants Lohengrin to make a statement about the role of the artist/composer in society. I have no idea why he feels that this is an appropriate place to attempt to make the point; he is very pedantic in his delivery, very similar to his comments on his Parsifal which also emmanated from Baden Baden. As idiotic as this scene comes off it is not a deal breaker and along with Nagano's wonderful conducting, the superb orchestra and chorus, and other reasons listed above I am happy to watch and listen to this Lohengrin."
A Lohengrin without a hero
Dr. J. J. Kregarman | Denver, Colorado United States | 02/14/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The sound is very good. The production, which calls for a self-absorbed, narcissistic Lohengrin, "works" BUT it robs this opera of some of its drama. With the exception of our Lohengrin I found all the singers excellent as both singers and actors. Elsa and the villainous duo are really well done. But our Lohengrin has a reedy, flat voice and his face rarely expresses emotion. There is a slight cut in the wedding march. If you have this DVD, you'll find much to enjoy, but do not let it be your only exposure to this opera."